Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: What Is Integral Art? (Or, How To Spot An Integral Artist)

31 January 2008

What Is Integral Art? (Or, How To Spot An Integral Artist)

(multiple perspectives)

As a primer for my forthcoming interview with integral philosopher Ken Wilber - and because I like to consider myself an "integral artist" - I need to properly situate things with a definition of "integral art."

Integral art as I mean it is a product of integral consciousness - "integral" being a structure of consciousness beyond modern rationality and postmodern pluralism that not only recognizes an endless diversity of other perspectives, but actively accepts and engages them. Integral consciousness, unlike the consciousness at earlier developmental "altitudes," does not regard the prior waves of development as "wrong" or "heathen" or "ill-informed," but as necessary and cherished expressions of evolution in its endlessly elaborating voyage of self-discovery. The emergence of integral thought and being begins a process of reclamation, a return and embrace of the selves and worlds that we were in such a hurry to leave behind when growing up. We dive back down into the depths of our pre-rational selves, newly equipped with the light of rational inquiry and the capacity to inhabit different perspectives without identifying with them. The goal is not to fall back into the slumber of half-consciousness, but to live each of our previous selves as a crucial part of our wholeness in this moment.

This new flexibility and depth has two consequences:

1) It opens up an endless palette of viewpoints, making it significantly easier for artists to communicate their artistic intent. A huge part of skillful expression is knowing your audience - who they are, what they experience, and how they interpret their world. Integral art has the expressive trump card - it can speak in the voice of any of its predecessors, rather than limiting itself to the one right way of seeing and relating that characterizes pre-integral existence (often un-selfconsciously).

2) It also makes identifying integral art a challenge, precisely because of how the art tends to play around in and express itself with the languages of previous structures. It's fairly easy to identify the Lascaux cave paintings as a form of magical artwork, or Picasso's cubist work as an expression of pluralist deconstruction. But the very nature of integral consciousness is one of chameolonic and chimeric fluidity. Like Paul the Apostle, truly integral communication is "all things to all people." It meets you where you are. Every language is its native language. So how do we know that something is integral art just by listening to it? Can we know?

Yes and no. First, the bad news: If you can't take the perspective of an integral artist, you're not likely to recognize integral art. If the piece is intended for your altitude, it'll appear to be coming from your altitude. If it's intended for someone else, you'll likely consider the statement to be irrelevant, ignorant, or insane.

Nonetheless, there are certain conceptual criteria we can use to help us identify an integral artist. And where there's smoke, there's fire - find an integral artist, and you'll find integral art.

And so here it is: In the clearest terms I can present to you, my definition of integral art. Please, if you have questions about any of this, don't hesitate to ask.



If the artist is conscious of the following elements:

- WHAT they are making (ontology)
- HOW they are making it (methodology)
- WHO is doing the making... (epistemology)

If the artist is accounting for how the piece resonates in the following dimensions:

- the "I" space (how it feels, what it evokes)
- the "We" space (what it means, how it influences relationships)
- the "It" space (its physical characteristics, patterns, and ecological context)...

If the artist recognizes the partiality of all of these techniques and perspectives in the ground of emptiness/nonduality...

Then it's safe to call it integral art.

You don't have to literate in the work of any particular person (although I owe a great deal of my perspective-taking abilities to familiarity with the work of Ken, Genpo Roshi, Allan Combs, Paul Levy, Daniel Pinchbeck, Paul Lonely, Alan Watts, Helen Palmer, Erik Davis, Tom Robbins, Alan Moore, David Deida, Greg Egan, David Titterington, and many others).

You don't have to be recognized for what you're doing (although if you're good at being integral, you probably will be, because your work will "speak" in a profound way to your intended audience).

You just need to be moving from this place of explorative depth - and therefore the only way to know if something is actually integral art (and that you're not simply providing an integral criticism of a piece) is to talk to the artist.


There may be more adequate ways to understand and communicate integral art, but it's a topic that by its very nature cannot be contained in a single and final definition. To honor the multiperspectival nature of this subject, I encourage you to read what others have written about integral art. Taken together, these different vantage points provide a much clearer and fuller portrait than I could ever hope to relate on my own. (Besides, how convincing would it be to declare myself an integral artist according solely to my own definition?)

Matthew Dallman has already written extensively about this:

There is also an integral art Wikipedia entry with links to the work of several amazing artists, available here:

(And lastly, there's a growing discussion about integral music in particular - especially, its development alongside new spiritual and material technologies - in the forums at Evolver.net's Visionary Music Group.)

(Written for iggli.com.)